Is There Hope for Healing Canine Liver Disease?
DISCLAIMER: I'm not a vet and I have no veterinary or medical background whatsoever. This information on liver disease in dogs is not meant as a substitute or replacement for veterinary advice. It's meant for educational and informational purposes only, as a starting point for discussing the diagnosis and treatment of canine liver disease with a qualified vet.
Background: My dog had been diagnosed as a Cushings Dog. The symptoms of Cushings Disease in dogs are easily mistaken for the natural progression of old age... we were fortunate to catch it, and, not long after I started my dog on maintenance therapy for Cushings, I started seeing subtle signs of something not right. Back to the vet he went. After more testing, I got the devastating diagnosis that he had "significant liver damage".
The vet estimated he would feel okay for 2 or 3 weeks and then start a decline. Surgery wasn't an option; my dog's liver was covered in multiple lesions. Supportive care was what I decided on, and at the time of writing this web page, it's been 9 months and my ancient "pup" is still going strong and feeling great.
The main issues were getting him to take his medications (several types of supplements and pills), and getting him to eat. We all need food for energy to help our bodies heal when we're ill, and it was no different for him. It took about a month before he really started turning around. At 2 months, he was perhaps 75% of normal, and at 3 months he was pretty much himself again (his lab values, though, took a couple months more to return to near-normal).
Supportive Therapy for Canine Liver Disease
It is critical that you find a vet you trust, and one who will give you a straight-forward answer to your questions. Preferably, you can find a vet who is experienced with liver disease - an Internal Medicine Specialist (also called an IMS or an internist) is often the best person for this job.Zentonil and Marin, both of which contain ingredients that help the liver. Ask your vet for more information and to make sure these are safe for your dog.
Fair warning though, that the costs of all these pills add up and it can be very expensive. Ordering online is often cheaper (I order ours through Amazon.com).
- Locating an ACVIM Board-certified Veterinary Specialist in Your Area
- Treatment of Liver Disease in Dogs
Pictured above: NUTRAMAX Marin Chewable Tablets
Lack of Appetite - Tips on Getting Your Dog to Eat
One of the biggest and most stressful issues was appetite problems, more specifically, inappetence: my dog simply did not want to eat. The liver disease was making him nauseous, and even taking a Pepcid tablet twice a day did not give him significant relief from the nausea.
I know that some vets will recommend that you feed a prescription diet that has been specially formulated for dogs with liver disease. The problem with this is, if a dog won't even eat many of his favorite foods, then why would he want to eat this new diet? (For the record, I tried offering my dog several brands of prescription dog food meant specifically for dogs with liver disease -- he consistently refused all of them.)
Our vet told us to take our dog home and feed him anything he wanted to eat. I think this was good advice. I strongly felt that it was better that he ate something, anything at all, then insist he try a prescription diet, or a low-protein diet, and instead have him eat nothing at all. A body needs food for energy to help itself heal.
- nutritional supplement like Nutrical.
This is a gel you can rub onto your dog's gums. For us, it turned out that Nutrical worked as
a minor appetite stimulant as well - right after giving my dog the gel, he would usually eat
something. It wasn't much - usually only a couple of teaspoons worth of food - but it
Your vet can suggest other appetite stimulants. Because my dog's liver was so messed up, we tried to stay away from pharmaceuticals when possible. You can buy various appetite stimulants but may want to clear it with your vet prior to using them. Sometimes just a sprinkle of something extra-delicious can help to spark an appetite.
Pictured above: NutriCal High-Calorie Nutritional Supplement
- Try warming up the food to room temperature, or slightly warmer. Heating up food can help enhance its scent. This may be enough to persuade your dog to at least try the food.
- Try serving the food cold. If your dog is feeling nauseous, strong scents may turn him off completely. So try serving chilled food instead. Offer a small bite-sized morsel first to try and entice him to eat. My dog accepted cold food far more often than warmed food.
- Bake canned dog food. Invert a can of dog food until
the food comes out in one piece. Then slice the food as thin as
you can and place them on a cookie sheet. Bake at low temperatures
until the slices are completely dry.
I had good luck using an egg slicer to quickly slice up firm, canned food (just cut to fit, then slice). If the canned food is softer, the egg slicer won't work - at least it didn't for me - and I found that a pastry cutter worked better (although it slices the food a little thicker than I would have liked).
- Cook - and grocery shop. I tried scrambled eggs (sometimes with ham or cheese), fried eggs, hard-boiled egg yolks, ground chicken / turkey / beef simmered with rice; roast beef; roast chicken and flavored chicken wings from the grocery store; chicken pot pie; oatmeal; pretty much anything (note: many, many times my dog refused the food I had prepared, so it became my lunch or dinner).
- Offer very small quantities. When my dog was feeling nauseous, a larger amount of food made it worse. Sometimes he would eat if I offered a teensy scarce 1/2 teaspoon of food at a time (at times, he would eat 1/4 cup or more of food in this way!).
- Offer food throughout the day. It's hard to know when your dog will be feeling inclined to eat... so if it's possible, offer him food whenever you can. You never know when he's going to accept.
- Be creative in how you offer food. Sometimes we offered it on a fork, on a spoon, or offered fingerfuls of food. My dog would occasionally eat kibble off the floor, if I didn't put down more than 3 or 4 kibble at a time. And sometimes he'd eat if I put a small amount of food beside him (not in front of him), so that he could easily turn his head and eat it when he wanted.
- Don't force him to eat -- it might make him turn away in the future. If he's not eating, he might still be feeling too nauseous to eat. You don't want him to associate the food with feeling bad. Just back off and try again later.
- Be wary of hiding pills in food. Hiding pills in food is
the easiest way to administer them -- if you don't get caught! With
my dog, he would sometimes roll the food in his mouth before eating
it... and a couple of times he ended up tasting the pill. That was
the end of that food - he wouldn't ever touch it again... and that's
the last thing you want when liver disease is making your dog so
nauseous he hardly wants to eat anything at all.
-- you hide your pills inside this treat and some dogs will
willingly eat them. Mine wouldn't. But they were still helpful
because I could package up several pills at a time, so I only
needed to pill him once (rather than having to give him
a whole series of pills, one by one).
There are pill poppers that are supposed to make it easier to give a dog or a cat a pill. I've never used one, but in reading some of the reviews, make sure there are no loose bits that could inadvertantly come off and be swallowed by your pet.
Pictured above: GREENIES Pill Pocket Soft Dog Treats
You might be wondering why I didn't use cheese or hot dog, or something that most dogs love. It goes right back to not hiding pills in food -- if he had discovered the pills inside one of these foods, he might have stopped eating it. We couldn't risk him turning away from any food that he still enjoyed, so we used the Pill Pockets instead.
- Be watchful for any 'quirks' that may help your dog eat. For example, my dog didn't want me to look at him while he ate, so I spent a lot of time pretending to gaze at the wall or ceiling, while surreptitiously watching him from my peripheral vision.
Hydration - Is Your Dog Drinking Enough?
Someone had suggested to us that we try unflavored Pedialyte, which is a hydration drink for children. I gave it to my dog a few times, but he hated it so much that I stopped. Instead, I added water to his food whenever he would accept it (for example, mixed with a bit of tasty canned food).
If your dog gets dehydrated, the other thing your vet can do is give your dog subcutaneous fluids.
Your pet might also find a drinking fountain more interesting - many pets love running water - and may be encouraged to drink more.
Checking for Dehydration
You can check your dog for dehydration by:
- Grab the skin between his shoulders and gently pull it up. Let it go. It should immediately rebound back into place. It it's slow to settle back into place, your dog might be dehydrated.
- Check your dog's gums. They should feel slippery and look 'shiny'. Then take a finger and gently press the gums until they turn white. Release. The gums should return to their usual pinkness almost right away. If your dog's gums are sticky and dull-looking, or if the gums don't return to their regular pink color after being pressed, your dog might be dehydrated.
I never could persuade my dog to eat a low-protein diet, as dogs with liver disease are supposed to do. He was always thrilled and happy when it came time for his walk (oddly, his energy level never flagged, even though he wasn't eating much) - but when it came to food, it had to be extra-delicious for him to even consider it. For him, extra-delicious = protein.
It took about 5 months from the time of diagnosis to get my dog's liver values and function back to near-normal levels. But much earlier than that, he was back to eating well. Now -- 9 months after diagnosis, at the time I'm writing this -- his liver appears to be stable. But that doesn't mean it's all okay. Since he has a history of liver problems now, he continues to get his nutritional and supportive supplements. We stay away from drugs whenever possible, and use complementary/alternative therapies instead. For example, instead of using the heavy-duty drugs Rimadyl or Metacam to relieve his arthritis, he gets Zeel (recently renamed T-Relief) and goes for acupuncture treatments. So far it seems to be working. If or when it stops working, then I will give him whatever drugs needed to keep him comfortable and maintain his quality of life.
Is There Hope for Dogs With Liver Disease?
The liver is an amazing organ. Liver calls can regenerate, and dogs can regain good liver function even when there has been significant liver damage. It happened with us. That's not to say that it will happen for every dog... sometimes the damage is simply too great and we need to make the difficult decision to let our friend go when life isn't any fun anymore. Early detection can provide more options and more time to try to reverse the damage - be sure you know the symptoms of liver problems in dogs, and talk to your vet to figure out a course of action. There is hope for healing canine liver disease.
Other Articles About Liver Disease in Dogs
How did you manage to stay in control when this happened to your dog? Our dog was diagnosed with high bilirubin and high white blood cell count. His liver is enlarged. He got better but suddenly took a turn for the worse. Our vet is on vacation until saturday. But he has not eaten a meal since Monday. Everything he does eat now, nibbles of chicken mostly, he throws back up. And today his intake of water has decreased tremendously. I am now having to force him to take his meds and most of them is just throwing up anyway. I am falling apart and not sure how I can make it until Saturday.
THANKYOU excellent suggestions -going to try the baking canned food option! 13 year old Milli is being treated for liver inflammation but just won’t eat!
This sounds like my Moose. Although he is early in the process. Still not eating much but good/decent energy and on liver supplements. Crossing my fingers if nothing else he stays comfortable.
My 12.5 year old mixed breed female dog, 40 pounds, was apparently fine until this Friday when she refused to eat anything. (She had refused breakfast on Thursday, but ate some dinner on Thursday evening.) She spent Saturday until late Monday at an emergency clinic. No nausea, no vomiting, no diarrhea. The one abnormality they found was an elevated ALT of over 10,000! They sent her home Monday evening with a several medications/supplements: Entyce, Denamarin, Vitamin K, Sucralfate, but she is a very difficult girl when you try to get something in her she does not want. She will bite me, so nothing is really going to work in that regard. She pooped once normally after she got home and has been drinking water and peeing regularly. She refuses anything edible and is getting weaker. The only thing the clinic suggests is an ultrasound. What should I do? Unless there is a way to get her to eat, I can't medicate her no matter the diagnosis. She needs nourishment.
Hi Dave , my older Jack Russell has some liver problems so our vet put him on the Hills L/D plus a supplement . He won’t touch the L/D food at all. He will eat any table food tho. What are some of the home cooked diet foods you are making for Jes?
I want to thank you for writing this article. My sweet senior boy Kashi has an enlarged liver and it's pushing his stomach and all his organs . He's not interested in eating but I keep trying everything I can think of.
Reading your article made me feel so much better as I'm going thru everything you wrote. I ordered the Marin treats last night and am praying he'll at least try them. Im not sure how long my boy will be with me but im trying to make him comfortable. You are an angel. Thank you again and God Bless.
This article actually gave me some hope. My dog has been at the University Hospital since last week and they basically say here liver is too damaged and that she won’t recover. I don’t really believe that because she still wants to go for a walk‘s is thrilled to see me etc. she has no appetite though and I am taking her home tomorrow. I already bought the stuff to rub on her gums. My dog is a therapy dog and does so much good in this world I am not giving up on her. Thank you so much.
Also, I still have no idea and neither does the vet what caused her liver damage. Three weeks ago she was running around catching boomerangs.
Thank you so much for the post! my dog was just diagnosed with liver problem. His ALT is high and ALP is 600 times higher and he hasn't been eating for the last week or so and lost 2 pounds. I am worried about how much longer he can last if he continues not eating any nutrients. Should I buy any supplement to boost his immune system and force on him using syringe?
Your vet may be able to suggest something, but in order to get some nutrients into our dog, we used NutriCal (there's a link in the article). Just rub it onto his gums.
My dog Jess was diagnosed with liver disease in May 2016 at 10 yrs old, Alt & Alp both went up to around 1700, she had jaundice and wasn`t eating, I cooked porridge and put it in Actimel pots
which she let me poor down her throat 3 times a day and quite happy for me to do it, that kept her alive until drugs worked and she started to eat again, the vet put Jess on Hills L/D plus Prednisolone and Denamarin.
It took close on 6 months for blood levels to get back to normal.
It is now 22 months since Jess became ill and she is looking good, although she has had a couple of seizures [I used Nutra Calm for them]
I Have put Jess onto a home cooked diet , now 2 weeks into this and looks even better, due for a blood test in 3 weeks so will see how it worked out.
As the writer of this post has said, none of the treatment is cheap, but no more expensive the a few holidays abroad.
Nearly forgot! a cake icing syringe is good for feeding!
Thank you for these suggestions. My dog was diagnosed with a bad liver recently and has not been eating well. I want to do everything I can to get her to eat anything at all since she is wasting away. Please keep her in your prayers.